RUC widow’s challenge against killer’s prison leave rejected

June McMullin only learned of Seamus Kearney's trips out of jail when contacted by the press
June McMullin only learned of Seamus Kearney's trips out of jail when contacted by the press

The widow of a murdered police officer has failed in a legal challenge to his killer’s temporary prison releases.

Lawyers for June McMullin claimed she was unlawfully kept in the dark as Seamus Kearney was allowed out of jail for periods of up to 48 hours.

Seamus Kearney is due to be released later this month

Seamus Kearney is due to be released later this month

But with the veteran republican set for full release later this month, a High Court judge ruled that her case has become academic.

Mr Justice Maguire also dismissed the bid for a judicial review because it was lodged outside the time limits.

Kearney, 58, is serving a life sentence for murdering Mrs McMullin’s husband John Proctor in September 1981.

The victim, a 25-year-old RUC Reserve Constable, was shot dead by the IRA minutes after visiting his wife and their newborn son at the Mid Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt.

In December 2013 Kearney was handed a minimum 20-year prison sentence for the killing.

DNA evidence on a cigarette butt found among spent bullet casing at the scene helped secure his conviction following a review of the case.

However, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement he will spend only two years behind bars and is due to get out of jail in three weeks time.

Earlier this year he issued proceedings when his temporary home leave periods were initially limited to eight hours.

He wanted out for the full 48 hours in time for St Patrick’s Day, and to watch his local GAA club compete in an All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final.

Mrs McMullin, who has since remarried, only learned of Kearney’s trips out of jail when contacted by the press about that case.

She sought to judicially review the Northern Ireland Prison Service, claiming failures to notify and consult with her breached human rights law and the Prisoner Release Victims Information Scheme.

Kearney’s home leave arrangements should be quashed, her barrister claimed.

The court heard he enjoyed periods out of jail in March before the privilege was suspended for three months.

Temporary releases recommenced in September, and he is due for another 48 hours prior to his final prison exit.

It was revealed how on one occasion last month Mrs McMullin spotted Kearney while she was out driving.

Counsel branded the scheme “a shambles” and claimed her client has been left distressed by a situation now communicated to her as a “fait accompli”.

The Prison Service’s legal representatives accepted a “breakdown in communication” resulted in failures to notify Mrs McMullin prior to Kearney’s temporary releases in March.

An apology was given to her for the omission and any upset caused.

But it was contended that the legal action should be thrown out due to delays and because the case has been rendered academic.

Kearney will be released before any judicial decision can be reached on the points raised, according to a barrister for the Prison Service.

With no other life sentence prisoners currently eligible under the Good Friday Agreement provisions, he insisted any wider legal exploration was unnecessary.

Ruling on the challenge on Wednesday, Mr Justice Maguire confirmed his refusal of leave to seek a judicial review.

“I consider that the application is out of time and I decline to extend time,” he said.

“I also consider the application is effectively academic and lacks utility.”

The judge held there was no public interest in any further hearings.

Outside court Mrs McMullin’s solicitor, Ciaran Moynagh, said she was disappointed with the outcome.

He added: “She appreciates that most of the benefits have passed her by, however she saw a wider public importance to the case that would ensure no other victims or relatives would have to go through what she went through.

“She believes that this scheme needs transparency and certainty around it.”